CD REVIEW: Toots Thielemans - Ne Me Quitte Pas (Reissue)



Toots Thielemans - Ne Me Quitte Pas
(Milan Music CD 301 70. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This album, a live recording of a concert which Toots Thielemans (1922- 2016) gave in the late 1980's with the trio of Fred Hersch (piano), Joey Baron (drums) and Marc Johnson (bass) is a reissue. According to Discogs , it was previously released in 1987, 1994, 1999 and 2005. It is released again now to mark the fact that a year has passed since the death of the Belgian harmonica great.

From the remarks of Thielemans himself about it which are quoted in the French press release, there does appear to be a certain heart-warming autobiographical theme about it. The concert was part of a tour for which Thielemans brought a top-flight American unit to Europe, and, for this concert, back to his home-town of Brussels. There is even a touching moment when a member of the audience - maybe even a family member -  calls out approval and seems to welcome him back by calling him by his real name: "Bravo Jean!"

The Brussels connection also links Thielemans to Jacques Brel. "I never met Mr. Brel, Master Brel, Maestro Brel" Toots said, regretfully, in an interview in 2013. "I was always busy in America." The two famous Brusselaars were born in different suburbs of Brussels five kilometres apart (the English version of Milan's French press release gets this fact wrong). Brel was seven years younger than Thielemans, but died nearly four decades earlier, in 1978. Ne Me Quitte Pas was a favoured tune for Thielemans from the mid-1980's onwards. He says in the 2013 interview that he first played it - modally, in E as he always did, a major third down from the original - at a concert in Liege to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the singer's death - but that is also questionable, since there are videos of him playing it with dates of 1985 given, and this concert - no location or date is given - also happened before the tenth anniversay of Brel's death. It is played here as a beautiful duo with Fred Hersch.

Thielemans' performance of Ne Me Quitte Pas was also the inspiration for the cover art by a third Brusselaar, the artist and illustrator Jean-Michel Folon (1934-2005) on the theme of a heart flying away.

Ne Me Quitte Pas is over in less than five minutes. Blue in Green, on the other hand,  segue-ing after ten minutes into All Blues (a fact not mentioned in the track listing) is a twenty-minute track and brings all four members of the quartet to the fore at different times. Thielemans savours the chromaticism of the tune, and Hersch - always sensitive - provides a delicious contrast by playing at times classically and diatonically. Autumn Leaves is the pretext for a Joey Baron solo of astonishing richness and invention.

The sense of connection and completeness is reinforced by the fact that Thielemans is also heard on guitar on Ivan Lins' tune Vela . Thielemans was modest about his guitar playing, even though it was the instrument he played for years in George Shearing's group: "every once in a while I hit a good well-placed note." He also whistles his classic tune Bluesette - which the audience whistles back.

It is completely understandable why Thielemans had such a special affection for this recording. It is less clear why the information made available with it is quite so unreliable.

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